I needed to make a trip to the Post Office. The thing is that I had to steel myself to do so. Vertonbridge Post Office and Stores was conveniently placed at just a three minute walk from our cottage and yet I avoided the Post Officy bit in favour of the one in Exeter. I didn’t mind patronising the Stores for some exorbitantly priced chutney, an emergency tube of sour cream & onion pringles or indeed some crap-brand milk, but the Post Office Countery bit was another matter. The proprietor and Post Mistress Miriam Ledgworth was all for chatting. Chit chat chit chat. She’s a nice enough old bird but jaze doesn’t she ever go on!
The reason for my urgent trip to the PO was that my new Literary Agent had finally sent through two copies of my contract and I needed to send a signed one back to her pronto before she changed her mind and realised that I was in fact a #crapwriter. It meant braving the omnipresent Miriam because I didn’t have time for the shlep into town. When I arrived at the Post Office there was a hefty queue which wasn’t surprising because Miriam was ear shagging everyone and the line was moving very slowly. It was also Pensions day and ‘senior citizens’ were dying of old age in the queue, keeling over, and younger slightly fresher faced old folk were stepping over them, rubbing their hands together, thinking they’d get served a bit quicker. I decided to pass some time by taking a little look at the ‘trash mags’ in the newspaper section, so I picked up a gaudy copy of – C.loser and sifted through it. I felt it was important to know which craplist celeb had got themselves bikini body ready and then been spotted (and papped) face down in a (go large) Big Mac meal at Warrington MacDonalds six times in the last week – it was imperative reading. Luckily Miriam couldn’t see me scanning C.loser with no intention of buying it because she has been known to shout across the shop floor unceremoniously, “Are you going to buy that magazine or are you just fingering it?” Unsavoury.
Anyway by the time I had wandered about, eyed up a few pretentious photographic birthday cards (blank for your own trite/humorous/insincere message) and felt up a couple of cling-filmed ‘handmade’ Victoria Sponges (for freshness you see, and then not actually bought one) the queue had gone down so I lined up.
“Ahh Hillie, how are you? Haven’t seen you for ages,” said Miriam enthusiastically, when I finally reached the head of the queue.
Yes because I’ll crawl on hands and knees to any other Post Office within a 50 mile radius rather than visit this one!
“Fine thanks, and you?” Adopt brace position for verbal enslaught.
“Oh you know, not too bad. Course, my Jim’s been in hospital for his bunions and my sciatica’s been playing up, it’s all this wet weather we’ve been getting. Call this a summer, huh, it’s not like the summers of my youth I can tell you. Blah blah blah…drone drone drone…blah blah blah…but I mustn’t grumble,” I had glazed over and was staring zombie like at her blurry hand-knitted jerkin bedecked outline I’m afraid.
Miriam drew said hand knitted jerkin/waistcoat/gilet/whatever about her, placed her bifocals on her nose and continued to prattle on.
“I liked your piece on the scarecrow competition in the Parish Mag, have you thought about taking up writing professionally?” I’m not sure if she was taking the piss or not but I chose not to rise to it. Having ‘posed’ the question (no reply required) she continued her monologue – barely pausing for breath.
“Mind you, I can’t believe my Janet (her daughter) didn’t win with her Queen and Corgis scarecrows, marvellous they were, the dogs were very lifelike.”
They were categorically crap, not at all canine like and a total scarecrow cliche, but other than that they were great!
“Anyway, what can I do for yourself today?” Miriam continued brightly.
“I’d like to send this Special Delivery thanks.” I displayed an A4 envelope on the counter, with some trepidation, like I was twelve again and passing a crap school report to my parents. Miriam eyed it up suspiciously over her bifocals. Her chin went up, her eyes narrowed and after a slight pause she said, “Hmm Special Delivery you say?” she looked both perplexed and wary in equal measure – as if I’d said “I’d like to send this by your speediest carrier pigeon please.”
“Yes Special please,” Would you just process it – sans effing prattle!
“Are you absolutely sure? It’s quite an expensive way of doing it!” Do I look like I can’t make a responsible postal service decision? “Quite sure thanks.”
“Now then, is it being sent within the British Isles?”
“Where’s it going?”
“Err…London,” Come on, blatant nosiness now, what was her problem? I wasn’t asking her to personally hand deliver it or drive a six horse Mail Coach through muddy cart ruts across Devon and through the Home Counties up to the Capital was I!
“Does it really need to be signed for?” Jeepers I was starting to feel mild panic and self doubt.
“Yes….( I think)….yes, yes it does,” I must not falter in the face of adversity, I must stay resolute.
“Because first class is very good these days, much more reliable than it has been in the past. It’ll probably be there by tomorrow and would only cost ..…let’s see…. £1.85 for yourself”.
“It’s ok, I need it signed for.” Perhaps I look strapped for cash? Then it dawned on me. She did witness my furtive trash magazine fingering and cake fondling after all. She can scarcely believe I’d got my priorities so badly wrong. If I’d only curb my postage excesses I could afford to splash out on a fresh sponge and treat myself to C.Loser.
“If you’re sure?” Super sure, like night follows day sure…..for the love of god.
“Ok then,” she sounded disdainful and sighed extra heavily for dramatic effect. Miriam made it blatantly obvious that she was very disappointed with my ‘no need – in her opinion’ postal service selection. “Pop it on the scales for yourself,” she added officiously.
I ‘popped’ it on the old-school scales (for myself) and let the weighing needle take about another 2 minutes to settle on the final weight.
“Hmm that’s coming up at £5.35, now are you sure you’re happy with that?” she looked up with ‘I told you it would be expensive’ mock concern from her half moon glasses on a gaudy string.
Bloody delighted! Over the frigging moon with happiness. “That’s fine thanks.”
“Does the contents have any value?” Value? Oh god, another effing question. I had to think for a moment. How do I quantify that? I don’t know? Probably not, but maybe? No? I’ll go with no – it’ll be quicker?
“No, no value.”
“What none at all?”
OH For F*ck’s Sake, calmly I explained, “no, I don’t think so – it’s just a document that could be redone if it got lost in the post,” or was hopelessly delayed on a mail train, engulfed in a sorting office inferno or dropped off the back of a speeding mail van????
“A document you say?” said Miriam sagely, she cocked an eyebrow knowingly, “perhaps one that could have been folded in two thus affording you the use of an A5 envelope and saving yourself a pretty penny on postage in the process!” She really enjoyed herself. Oh go on then – you have your moment of postal smuggery glory! Take it! Why not do a victory twirl in your hand knitted jerkin. Though it made no sense to me, she certainly wasn’t upselling the services of the Post Office and if her pay was perfomance related surely she was only diddling herself out of a bonus – ergo a week in the Peak District by coach and a stack of knit your own jerkin patterns?
“Can you pass it through the parcel hatch please,” she added primly.
I duly passed the parcel (no shrieky party-going kids required).
“How would you like to pay?” asked Miriam. So concerned was she about the cost I half expected her to offer me an interest free weekly payment plan.
Cash! Cash, might stop her bleating on so I gave her £6.
“£6 thank you and here’s your change – 65 pence and your receipt for yourself,” she made a great show of ‘starring’ something on the receipt.
“And this is your code number so you can track your parcel at all times and find out when it’s delivered and who signs for it up in ‘The Big Smoke’.” Miriam continued. “Any problems, speak to head office because we don’t handle complaints in branch and we certainly don’t have the time to be discussing postal issues at the counter. Anything else for yourself today?”
Just the last 20 minutes of my life back (for myself) please!
The same conversation in other Post Offices:
“hello, can I send this special delivery please”.
“That’ll be £5.35 please,” money changes hands. The parcel is passed through the hatch!
“Thanks,” goodbyes are exchanged – end of conversation.
More next week.
As you were!